Reflections on the first #fairpayinHE strike

By Morris Pamplin, UCU member

I was proud to be on the picket line with my colleagues on 31st October. I firmly believe that working relationships are turned into friendship and even, dare I say it, comradeship in situations such as standing on a picket line together. Yet, this implies a kind of thick-as-thieves mentality which separates those on the picket from those not on the picket, and those active in the union from those not active, or not in the union.

However, it’s not like that at all. If you were on one of the many picket lines on 31st October, I hope like me that you found it uplifting to see familiar colleagues and also get together colleagues who you did not know were active union members. But if you weren’t there, I wonder why not. Many people, of course, see strike day as a welcome and needed day off – albeit unpaid – or find it difficult to be on the picket when the strike clashes with school holidays. Still, there are others who stay away from the picket line for quite different reasons.

First there are those who feel pressured by management into working through the strike and where this occurs it is an absolute attack on the rights of those people to stand up with their colleagues and take a stand for what they believe. Second, however, many people are concerned that the picket line is a combative place. I do not doubt it has been in the past, may be again in the future, and still is so in many industries. But if you join us for the next round of industrial action you should not expect to be in a minority of outspoken radicals. You will, actually, probably be surprised to find that people crossing the picket line support you. Perhaps your voice, added to all the others, will be the one that prompts someone to reconsider and join us on the line themselves next time. That is why you are there.

Besides this, you will find the line a welcoming, equal place. You may even be reminded, like I am, that being active in the union is one of the few ways that average employees can get a sense of community in a place such as ours. And if it’s not raining, you may even actually enjoy it.

Personally I believe that we all have a responsibility to join the picket line wherever possible. Organisations need dedicated and motivated staff to succeed, even to function, and by temporarily withdrawing our labour on strike days we show our employers that they need us (and we all know that more than 4.4% were out on the last strike). The more of us are on the line, the more it is truly collective action, which is what trade unions are built on. So yes we each have an individual responsibility; but we do not bear it individually. You won’t be sticking your neck out by joining us for the next strike. You will, in fact, be taking part in national, cross-union action.

Should you feel any compunction about not only going out on strike, but joining the picket? No. Should you feel any shame about having been on strike when you return to work? No. Should you be worried about the impact on your students? Well who wouldn’t; but be in no doubt that if you do not take a stand at times like this, it is not just your pay and working conditions which will suffer, but your students’ education will ultimately suffer too.20131031_113106

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Many thanks to Alfredo Gomes for the photos.

Thank you! ASOS Working to contract starts today! #fairpayinHE


A massive thanks to all our members who took strike action yesterday and especially to those who braved the weather to join the picket lines  at every major entrance to City University, London. Together with our colleagues in UNITE and UNISON we delivered the largest and most effective strike in recent years. Our action was replicated across the country and demonstrated the strength of our arguments and we hope that UCEA, led by our Vice Chancellor, will quickly wish to return to the negotiating table. Today UCU start Action Short of Strike Action to keep the pressure on our Employers. Below is guidance from the National UCU;

Working to contract: What action is the union asking me to take?

UCU is calling on all members in higher education to begin working to contract and working to rule from 1 November 2013.

This means that we’re asking you to abide strictly by the terms of your contract, so the first thing to do is to dig out your contract of employment and refer to that when reading this advice.

We’ve put together this advice to help you to understand the kinds of things you should and should not be doing.

In brief, members should

  • to work no more than their contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, or where they are stipulated in a workload agreement and in any event not to exceed the maximum number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations (48 hours a week)
  • to perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required)
  • to set and mark no work beyond that work which they are contractually obliged to set and/or mark
  • to attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary on the part of the members
  • to undertake no duties that breach health and safety policies or other significant employer’s policies

Some of it sounds simple and basic but we know from experience that Universities run on significant amounts on unpaid labour and goodwill. This is what we are withdrawing in this action.

Full information including FAQ is available on